Burt Reynolds has directed a few movies, did you know that? And some TV shows, too. He's no Scorsese, but at least he's no Edward D. Wood, Jr., either. In 1981, he directed and starred in Sharky's Machine, which was his most successful. It also featured some impressive stunt-work by the legendary Dar Robinson, who performed the highest wireless free jump from a building in a film, although in the final cut of the film cuts short the full extent of this fall.
While undercover, Narcotics officer Sharky (Reynolds) is interrupted by fellow officer Smiley (Darryl Hickman), and the bust goes sour, resulting in a pregnant woman being held hostage, and Sharky having to shoot and kill the dealer. After, Sharky is busted down to Vice, literally in the basement, where a rag-tag group of weirdos and more weirdos struggle at the bottom of the barrel. They accidentally discover a high-class prostitution ring, and a mysterious assassin is picking off high-end clients. During their observation of the $1,000 per night hooker Dominoe (Rachel Ward), Sharky begins to fall in love with her. Eventually she is shot and killed, and Sharky seeks to find her killer, a drug addict named Billy Score. His brother Victor seems to be pulling the strings in the prostitution ring, even being involved with a gubernatorial candidate. Sharky and his "machine" (the group of vice weirdos he assembles around himself) find Dominoe alive (her friend was killed accidentally, because she was staying at Dominoe's), find out that Smiley is involved somehow, Sharky gets tortured by Smiley before killing them, until they finally confront Billy Score.
If that synopsis didn't make much sense, don't worry; it's not entirely my fault. The entire scope of the movie is largely nonsensical, and based almost entirely on action movie cliché, motivations, and characterizations. Sharky seems entirely motivated by the fact he's a cop; there's no real sense of his home life, friends outside of other cops, etc. There's an attempt to show maybe a glimpse of what he's missing by having one of his machine have a wife and family; but he seems uninterested. The machine are motivated by hating being in vice; they look up to Sharky because of his reputation, but also seem to have little of their own aspirations aside from this one particular investigation. Sharky runs around, shooting bad guys, falling in love with hookers (and then threatening her with violence when she stands up to him and refuses to give him some information). I'm sure an entire study on masculine roles, general masculinity and violence, and the roles of females almost entirely as prostitutes, but it would take far too long. It's kind of everywhere, and likely doesn't even attempt to make any apologies for it.
Overall, there's not much to say. It's an early 80s action movie, which means it's still mostly the 70s; there's a lot of Dirty Harry flavor going on here, but it's hard not to say that about any action movie. The "Machine" does get a good bit of screen time, featuring some great character actors, and everyone does actually have their crucial role to play in getting things resolved.
My favorite part is the ending; Billy Score kills his brother Vincent in some sort of drug-rage. Then Sharky confronts him, shoots him, and he crashes through the window, falling like 60 stories to his death. Then, after that, there's a jarringly random shot of Sharky and Dominoe at some sort of playground, and I think she's on the swings. Happy ending! Credits. This was the famous Dar Robinson stunt, where he fell free of wires over 200 feet to an airbag, but the shot only shows him for a few seconds, and then the rest is obviously a dummy. I think Burt Reynolds probably didn't get a good enough usable shot after the first few moments of the stunt, so they had to just chuck a dummy wearing a suit out a window.
The jarring ending actually takes a star away, because it's so random and tacked on. That may not be Burt's fault, but it's still a major issue with the movie. It's kind of funny sometimes, though, and has some decent action; and by "decent action" I mean "really loud gunshot sound-effects and smashing into stuff."
If you like that sort of thing, check it out. If you don't like action movies at all, then you probably won't like it. It's always interesting to see Younger Burt Reynolds, though. I give this movie two and a half nonsensical and frustratingly misleading titles out of five, or two and a half terribly wasted stunts combined with incredibly random and totally unnecessary endings out of five.